September 20th, 1991


FROM THE ARCHIVES:Armed with their hit I Useta Lover, the Saw Doctors returned to Tuam where John Waters went into rhapsodies

IN TUAM, at the band’s recent homecoming concert, in a marquee the size of an aircraft hanger, the Saw Doctors pumped blood and oxygen into the great rock ’n’ roll cliche: bringing it all back home. Nobody who stood on the sweating grass of Tuam stadium could be in any doubt but that they were witnessing something quite extraordinary. For two hours as the Saw Doctors played their music one could think without a hint of self-reproach that here at last was a band that both transcended the global provincialism of rock and the inferiority complex of the Irish.

This was a concoction of the local and the universal, the Galway and the merely global.

The secret of the Saw Doctors is that they know who they are and are determined that that is what they will be. Everything about them makes sense, because they refuse to squeeze themselves through the filter of fashion. They are of the first generation to grow up entirely in a world where pop music and television did their best to assert themselves on the green fields and grey streets of 20th century Ireland. In Tuam, when they sang the chorus of “N17” – their song about the road from Tuam to America – with their five fathers, the Saw Daddies, those few minutes of what might have seemed like farce encapsulated both the riddle in the soul of modern Ireland and the secret of the Saw Doctors’ transcendence of it. Delivered in unison by two generations from what we are led to believe are two Irelands, the refrain, stark and unfiligreed, rejects both romance and revisionism.“Stone walls and the grass is green/ Stone walls and the grass is green.” This is this, and that is that.

“It’s natural,” says Leo Moran, the bespectacled guitarist who was the first recorded punk in Tuam. “All the influences are things you’ve been listening to all your life on the radio. You’ve been listening to the Beatles all your life, you’ve been listening to punk music all your life; so we never sit down and say, ‘let’s write a song.‘ They’re in you.” . . .

To the open-minded outsider, the Saw Doctors’ music contains echoes of an entire rock encyclopedia, from the Ramones to Clannad, via The Undertones, The Smiths, Bruce Springsteen, the Royal Showband, Moving Hearts, Steve Earle and Hank Williams. To their fans they just are. The Saw Doctors’ ethic is to neither know nor care what it is you’re supposed to avoid. This has dragged them into disfavour with the arbiters of taste and fashion, who in their infinite wisdom have decreed: Thou shalt not write songs about nuns.

One Dublin critic wrote that listening to a Saw Doctors’ record was only slightly less painful than having his chest hair removed with a pair of tweezers: an RTE producer described them as “vile and disgusting”: at least one Dublin radio station, 98FM, has refused to play their records. And this, remember, is the most commercially successful band here since U2.